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Hathcox’s students, colleagues reflect on the legacy of a man ‘bigger than Texas’

Physics professor Kyle Hathcox works with former Union student Joel Fern on a physics project. (Photo by Jim Veneman)
Physics professor Kyle Hathcox works with former Union student Joel Fern on a physics project. (Photo by Jim Veneman)
Related Resource(s): Physics professor Hathcox dies at 64; Memorial Service Audio

JACKSON, Tenn.July 27, 2007 – His students remember him as a professor who cared about them – not just as physics students, but as people.

His colleagues remember him as a leader and conciliator – someone whose presence was always soothing and never disruptive.

Whatever the perspective, those who knew Union University physics professor Kyle Hathcox can agree that he was indeed “bigger than Texas,” as a Facebook group dedicated to his memory describes him.

“He was one of the most tenderhearted people I ever met,” said Brian Taylor, a 2005 Union graduate. “One thing I will never forget. Right after graduation I was walking along and all of a sudden this big guy just started hugging me. It was Dr. Hathcox. He was even tearing up. He cared so much for his students.”

Hathcox, 64, died July 25 at the same facility where Taylor is a Doctor of Philosophy student in medical physics – the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. Hathcox had been diagnosed with leukemia in early July. Taylor was able to visit Hathcox only a couple of hours before his death.

A Texas native, Hathcox began teaching at Union in 1974. He left in 1988 for a six-year stint at Gordon College, then returned to the Union faculty in 1994. His wife Sandy is a part-time education professor at Union.

“I could tell that he and Sandy loved each other very much,” Union physics professor Bill Nettles said. “He was almost like a teenager around her.”

In Hathcox’s memory, Union has established the Kyle Hathcox Memorial Scholarship for physics majors and minors. Donations can be sent to:

Kyle Hathcox Memorial Scholarship
Office of University Relations
Union University
1050 Union University Drive
Jackson, TN 38305

To further recognize Hathcox’s contributions to the university, Union President David S. Dockery announced that the physics and engineering offices have been renamed the Kyle Hathcox Memorial Suite.

“We give thanks for Dr. Hathcox’s years of faithful service to Union University and for the lives of students and colleagues who were touched by his teaching and service,” Dockery said. “We are also thankful for Dr. Hathcox’s strong faith in Jesus Christ, and while we grieve his loss, we do so with the promise and hope of eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

Union physics professor David Ward called Hathcox a great campus leader who practiced skillful diplomacy among people with differing viewpoints.

“I’m trying to think of how I’m going to muddle along without his leadership,” Ward said. “Nobody had ever had anything negative or bad to say about Kyle. He always brought peace and calm.”

Ward also said Hathcox was instrumental in starting both the physics and engineering programs at Union.

“Kyle could make things happen,” Ward said. “He was all about growing Union and growing science and physics.”

Nettles only knew Hathcox well for a little more than a year, but said that Hathcox was a pleasure to work with all the time.

“In one sense he was very easygoing, and in another sense he was very intense,” Nettles said. “He was an excellent administrator and knew how to get things done without upsetting people.”

Barbara McMillin, associate provost and dean of instruction at Union, worked closely with Hathcox when she was dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. She described him as “amazingly reliable and thorough,” and as someone who handled all situations with grace.

“Kyle Hathcox was a leader who led by example, and he led in a very quiet, dignified and effective way,” McMillin said. “Kyle was very persistent when he knew what needed to happen to resolve a problem, and he just kept at it and stuck with it until he found a solution.

“I don’t recall ever seeing Kyle disgruntled or responding in any way that anyone could even remotely interpret as being frustrated,” she continued. “He was always a gentleman and always considerate.”

Rob Krauss is a 2007 Union graduate who majored in physics, and who will begin graduate study in medical physics at Vanderbilt University in August. Krauss said Hathcox’s influence on his life was profound.

Krauss especially remembers one of the last lengthy conversations he had with Hathcox.

“I sat in his office probably for about an hour,” Krauss said. “We talked about science and faith, and how science is a way that God has pointed to himself, and how the world has forgotten that.”

Krauss recalls many times in his experimental physics class, when they would be waiting for the results of an experiment, that Hathcox would tell the students personal stories about his experiences, studies and life.

“And we would eat it up,” Krauss said. “He was doing the one thing that he loved most at Union, which is teaching.

“He was an example of what people come to expect from professors at Union.”

Related Resource(s): Physics professor Hathcox dies at 64; Memorial Service Audio
Media contact: Tim Ellsworth, news@uu.edu, 731-661-5215

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